Like many other people who have been exposed to western culture, my opinion on many things changed. However, over the years I have come to realise that there are some things about different African cultures that bring a smile to my face. Tanzania has about 120 tribes and I am a fusion of two of them.
If you asked me four years ago what I thought of cohabitation I would have told you that the idea is crazy. How in the world am I to leave my father’s house to live with another man without being married? But after meeting a lot of frauds I find it an added advantage if you would like to call it that. I mean, I’d like to know what I am getting myself into, who wouldn’t. But then there is a beauty to a man asking your father for your hand in marriage and all the traditional festivities that come with it. Over the years I think we go over the top with wedding ceremonies (I can go to the extent of calling them circus shows sometimes) but the cultural element is still there. We still sing the songs and my aunties will take off their shoes and dance. It all makes me very happy because it makes me get in touch with an identity that only occasionally shows up. I wish I could see it more often but it’s a little too late to wish I spoke my parent’s tribal languages. That would certainly make the conversations between my grandmother and me a lot funnier. Brilliant woman she is.
So where was I? Ah, the beauty of a man taking a woman from her home. But no, now we all want to be independent women who walk into our parents’ homes, a man on other arm and say ‘this is him, the one.’ Or invite him to Sunday dinner. Oh I’m joking, that’s a suicide note. We don’t do the whole ‘bring your boyfriend over for dinner’ thing. It’s easier for parents to pretend that part of your life doesn’t exist until it is official. However some might hint that you are no spring chicken and well, you get the drift. It’s really not that parents would not want to get comfortable with the man of your dreams but its more about respect.
We are all taught how to respect our elders growing up. How to greet them, serve and speak to them. So in cases like my prince charming we have developed a messenger system which is also quite interesting. I would talk to A then A to B and my father might be letter K or something of the sort. It might be easier to just introduce him directly but that’s just how things are done no matter how ‘independent’ you have become. I find it quite appalling when I see a teenager talk to an adult with the same respect they’d have for their peer. I am not saying that all young people are ill-behaved just that I would face harsh consequences if I told my mother that I ‘hate her’ and she has ‘ruined my life.’ In fact I would never even dream of it, death wish waiting to happen.
Of course there is a downside to fearing a parent because you risk not having a close relationship with them. However, I think it is more harmful when a society sits back and watches young people mistreat the older and wiser (that’s how the song goes). We have all heard African-American comedians and their calling child services joke. And this is certainly not me opposing the state protecting vulnerable groups such as children. I think discipline is a beautiful element in any culture, not just my own. I think it really makes the relationships we have a lot stronger both with our families and the rest of the community.
I can’t imagine my grandmother living by herself or buying her own groceries. I feel that that’s my job. Not because I would feel guilty for not taking care of her but because over the years I have developed a sense of love and duty to her. Also, grandparents are pretty funny. And that ladies and gentlemen is the beauty of African culture. Family values, how we embrace them and integrate them with cultural and traditional values. I am not saying it does not exist in the west. Of course not everyone abandons the elderly and many people really value family. I guess it’s only when you notice the lack of these colourful tribes that you get to appreciate their beauty. As much as I would love to be a 21st century girl, I would be more than happy to hang on to my roots any day. And if I could have both that would be brilliant!